When you retire from your primary career, will you relocate? More than
50 percent of homeowners between the ages of 45 to 64 plan to pack up
and move entirely, purchase a second home, or buy an investment
property, according to the National Association of Home Builders. With
almost 77 million Boomers marching toward Retirement, there will be
lots of Moving vans rumbling down the streets!

But, whether you stay put, buy new, purchase a resale, rent, or
remodel, you should know about a concept called “universal design.”
According to the Center for Universal Design, the intent is “the design
of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the
greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or
specialized design.”

Translated into specifics, it means 27-inch high electrical outlets to
minimize bending, rocker switches to make turning lights on and off
easier, nonslip flooring, wider hallways to accommodate a wheelchair
(if that becomes necessary), “comfort height” toilets that are two and
one half inches taller than the standard 17 to 19 inch height, etc. In
other words, universal design makes a home more accessible, no matter
what your age or condition, and, in most cases, doesn\’t require
anything fancy or expensive.

Here is a handy list from Toolbase, a service of the National
Association of Home Builders (NAHB) Research Center. No matter what
your ultimate decision – will you stay or will you go – keep these in

Smart Ideas Checklists

• Low-maintenance exterior (vinyl, brick)
• Low-maintenance shrubs and plants
• Deck, patio or balcony surfaces are no more than 1⁄2″ below interior floor level if made of wood

Overall Floor Plan
• Main living on a single story, including full bath
• No steps between rooms/areas on the same level
• 5\’ x 5\’ clear/turn space in living area, kitchen, a bedroom and a bathroom

• Minimum of 36″ wide, wider preferred
• Well lit

• Accessible path of travel to the home
• At least one no-step entry with a cover
• Sensor light at exterior no-step entry focusing on the front-door lock
• There needs to be 32″ of clear width, which requires a 36″ door
• Non-slip flooring in foyer
• Entry door sidelight or high/low peep hole viewer; sidelight should provide both privacy and safety.
• Doorbell in accessible location
• Surface to place packages on when opening door

• Flush preferable
• Exterior maximum of 1⁄2″ beveled
• Interior maximum of 1⁄4″

Interior Doors
• There needs to be 32″ of clear width, which requires a 36″ door
• Levered door hardware

• Plenty of windows for natural light
• Lowered windows or taller windows with lower sill height
• Low maintenance exterior and interior finishes
• Easy to operate hardware

Garage or Carport
• Covered carports and boarding spaces
• Wider than average carports to accommodate lifts on vans
• Door heights may need to be 9\’-0″ to accommodate some raised roof vans
• 5\’ minimum access aisle between accessible van and car in garage
• If code requires floor to be several inches below entrance to
house for fume protection, can slope entire floor from front to back to
eliminate need for ramp or step
• Ramp to doorway if needed
• Handrail if steps

• Lever handles or pedal-controlled
• Thermostatic or anti-scald controls
• Pressure balanced faucets

Kitchen and Laundry

• Wall support and provision for adjustable and/or varied height counters and removable base cabinets
• Upper wall cabinetry – 3″ lower than conventional height
• Accented stripes on edge of countertops to provide visual orientation to the workspace
• Counter space for dish landing adjacent to or opposite all appliances
• Base cabinet with roll out trays and lazy susans
• Pull-down shelving
• Glass-front cabinet doors
• Open shelving for easy access to frequently used items

• Easy to read controls
• Washing machine and dryer raised 12″ – 15″ above floor
• Front loading laundry machines
• Microwave oven at counter height or in wall
• Side-by-side refrigerator/freezer
• Side-swing or wall oven
• Raised dishwasher with pushbutton controls
• Electric cook top with level burners for safety in transferring
between the burners, front controls and downdraft feature to pull heat
away from user; light to indicate when surface is hot

• 30″ x 48″ clear space at appliances or 60″ diameter clear space for turns
• Multi-level work areas to accommodate cooks of different heights
• Open under-counter seated work areas
• Placement of task lighting in appropriate work areas
• Loop handles for easy grip and pull
• Pull-out spray faucet; levered handles
• In multi-story homes, laundry chute or laundry facilities in master bedroom

• Wall support and provision for adjustable and/or varied height counters and removable base cabinets
• Contrasting color edge border at countertops
• At least one wheelchair maneuverable bath on main level with
60″ turning radius or acceptable T-turn space and 36″ x 36″ or 30″ x
48″ clear space
• Bracing in walls around tub, shower, shower seat and toilet for installation of grab bars to support 250 – 300 pounds
• If stand-up shower is used in main bath, it is curbless and minimum of 36″ wide
• Bathtub – lower for easier access
• Fold down seat in the shower
• Adjustable/ handheld showerheads, 6\’ hose
• Tub/Shower controls offset from center
• Shower stall with built-in antibacterial protection
• Light in shower stall
• Toilet 2 1⁄2″ higher than standard toilet (17″ to 19″) or height-adjustable
• Design of the toilet paper holder allows rolls to be changed with one hand
• Wall-hung sink with knee space and panel to protect user from pipes
• Slip-resistant flooring in bathroom and shower

Stairways, Lifts and Elevators
• Adequate hand rails on both sides of stairway, 1 1⁄4″ diameter
• Increased visibility of stairs through contrast strip on top
and bottom stairs, color contrast between treads and risers on stairs
and use of lighting,
• Multi-story homes may provide either pre-framed shaft (ie.
stacked Closets) for future elevator, or stairway width must be minimum
of 4\’ feet to allow space for lift
• Residential elevator or lift

• Slope no greater than 1″ rise for each 12″ in length, adequate handrails
• 5\’ landing provided at entrance
• 2″ curbs for safety

• Adjustable closet rods and shelves
• Lighting in closets
• Easy open doors that do not obstruct access

Electrical, Lighting, Safety and Security
• Light switches by each entrance to halls and rooms
• Light receptacles with at least 2 bulbs in vital places (exits, bathroom)
• Light switches, thermostats and other environmental controls
placed in accessible locations no higher than 48″ from floor
• Electrical outlets 15″ o.c. from floor; may need to be closer than 12\’ apart
• Clear access space of 30″ x 48″ in front of switches and controls
• Rocker or touch light switches
• Audible and visual strobe light system to indicate when the
doorbell, telephone or smoke or CO2 detectors have been activated
• High-tech security/intercom system that can be monitored, with
the heating, air conditioning and lighting, from any TV in the house
• Easy-to-see and read thermostats
• Pre-programmed thermostats
• Flashing porch light or 911 switch
• Direct wired to police, fire, and EMS (as option)
• Home wired for security
• Home wired for computers

• Smooth, non-glare, slip-resistant surfaces, interior and exterior
• If carpeted, use low (

Jan Cullinane is the co-author of The New Retirement: The Ultimate Guide to the Rest of Your Life (Rodale, 2007). She gives seminars on the (primarily) non-financial aspects of retirement through her company, "Retirement Living from A to Z."